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ICE Deports Beloved Community Member Phoeun You

August 17, 2022 News

Media Contacts:

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus,

Asian Prisoner Support Committee,

ICE Deports Beloved Community Member Phoeun You

Family members, advocates, and elected officials are heartbroken and devastated, continue to urge Gov. Newsom to pardon Phoeun and pass the VISION Act (AB 937)

SAN FRANCISCO – Phoeun You’s family and supporters have learned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported Phoeun to Cambodia, despite having not heard from Phoeun for over 24 hours while he has been in ICE custody.

After learning ICE was transporting Phoeun to an airport yesterday - a process shrouded in secrecy - community groups and elected officials around the state launched an all-out surge of activity to urge Governor Newsom to grant Phoeun a pardon. Despite the deportation, Governor Newsom can still pardon Phoeun and reunite him with his family and community. Community members are also raising funds to support Phoeun in Cambodia, a country to which he has no ties.

“There are no words to fully capture the cruelty of this moment. Phoeun should be home with his family, not deported to a country he escaped as a child. Last month, extremist right-wing justices on the Supreme Court continued their efforts to roll back progress on equality and justice for immigrant communities. That may have stopped the Biden administration from protecting tens of thousands of families from ICE deportation, but that shouldn’t stop California,” said So Young Lee, who represents Phoeun and is an immigrant rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. “There’s still time for Gov. Newsom to affirm the best of California’s values, pardon Phoeun so that he could come home, and support the VISION Act so that we never again turn our neighbors and loved ones over to ICE.”

In recent weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for Phoeun. More than a hundred people, including State Senators Lena Gonzalez, Nancy Skinner, and Scott Weiner; Assemblymembers Mia Bonta, Alex Lee and Patrick O’Donnell; Oakland City Councilmembers; and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, have sent letters to Governor Newsom supporting Phoeun’s pardon. The Oakland City Council also unanimously voted on a resolution urging Governor Newsom to pardon Phoeun and stop his deportation.

“It's very sad that Governor Newsom could have done more to intervene but chose not to,” said James Bunyou, Phoeun’s oldest brother. “He isn't listening to our community outcry. Our family would like to thank all of the friends that came out to support him and fight for Phoeun to stay.”

In July, approximately 100 Bay Area residents, faith leaders, elected officials, and Phoeun’s parents and siblings rallied on the steps of the State Building in Oakland urging the governor to immediately pardon Phoeun and to support the VISION Act (AB 937) so that no one endures what Phoeun and his family have gone through. The VISION Act is a landmark racial and immigrant justice bill that would end the practice of handing over community members like Phoeun for deportation.

Despite the California Board of Parole Hearings recommending Phoeun’s release from state prison and reunification with his family and community, California’s prison system nonetheless chose to transfer Phoeun to ICE, leading to his deportation.

Phoeun You & His Family and Community

Phoeun You’s family survived the Cambodian genocide by fleeing to a refugee camp in Thailand. Upon arriving in the U.S. as a child, Phoeun faced discrimination as an immigrant. His family endured poverty and violence living in under-resourced neighborhoods, and Phoeun joined a gang for protection and belonging. At 20, Phoeun’s only way of protection and survival was violence. In response to an attack on him and his family, Phoeun opened fire that resulted in his incarceration. After serving 25 years, in August 2021, the California Board of Parole Hearings recommended Phoeun be released from state prison in recognition of his rehabilitation and service. On his release date, California’s prison system contacted ICE to detain and deport him.

Phoeun's family, friends, advocates, and many formerly incarcerated community members have been organizing to protect him from deportation -- emphasizing how much he has transformed and his leadership as a founding member of ROOTS (Restoring Our Original True Selves), a certified counselor by Bay Area Women Against Rape, and a mentor to many other Southeast Asian refugees who were incarcerated at a young age.


AB 937 (Carrillo), the VISION Act, would ensure that once a person has earned their release from state prison or local jail, they are not transferred to abusive and possibly deadly ICE detention, and instead are able to return to their loved ones and rebuild their lives. This includes a person who has completed their sentence, been granted parole, had charges dropped, or been granted release by a judge. The bill is currently eligible for a vote on the Senate floor, after passing the state Assembly and two Senate committees.

A recent decision by far-right Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, limiting the Biden administration’s discretion in deportation cases, underscores the urgency for California to grant clemency to Phoeun and to stop turning people who have served their time over to ICE.

At least eight counties in California have already ended the unjust practice of transferring immigrant community members to ICE, as have Illinois, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.